Training Camp for all 32 NFL teams is always interesting, determining not only who will be a part of the team, but also who starts. The Buffalo Bills are no different, and there are two positions on the defensive side of the ball targeted in camp for possible shake-ups.
The two positions are strong-side linebacker and starting safety opposite Donte Whitner. Last season's starters, Keith Ellison and Bryan Scott respectively, were solid players, Scott more-so than Ellison.
However, neither were playmakers. Ellison was someone the coaching staff could count on to not make mistakes, but he also could not be counted on to make big plays in favor of the defense.
Scott was effective in both coverage, shutting down Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, and run support. He did not force fumbles or intercept passes, however.
The Bills needed play-makers on the defense last year, and only one player really responded at all.
That was rookie corner-back Leodis McKelvin who played very well in relief of injured starter Jabari Greer. With the off-season departure of Greer, McKelvin will be starting from Week One opposite Terrence McGee.
During training camp, the coaching staff will be looking for play makers at these two positions. Who will step up?
At strong-side linebacker, Keith Ellison is probably the favorite at this point due to his consistency and ability to keep from giving up big plays too often. The rest of the linebackers are inexperienced, which can lead to mistakes.
However, Alvin Bowen and Nic Harris both have more upside than Ellison.
Bowen was drafted last year to be a force on special teams and possibly be groomed into a starter. However, a knee injury during training camp derailed any possibility of him playing.
During his college years, he was a tackling machine. This training camp is very important for him to prove that he can come back from the injury and become a force to reckon with.
Harris is a rookie who played safety in college, but he did play in the box enough to be familiar with that area of the field. He is very good in run support, has good ball skills, and can cover tight ends. Due to being a rookie, the team is probably reluctant to put him into the starting position at the start of the season.
However, if he blows away the competition in camp, he should start. At the very least, he will be seeing a lot of time in special teams where he should have a very good impact.
Prediction: Keith Ellison will start the season at strong-side linebacker; Nic Harris may supplant him as a starter by the end of the season.
At safety, the Bills have lacked a playmaker for many years. Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson were supposed to change that. They were a good rookie safety tandem and appeared to be poised to make waves after that point. However, Simpson got injured and since that point, he has been unable to break back into the starting lineup.
Simpson will be fighting not only for a starting spot during this camp, but also simply to make the team. Prior to the draft, the Bills were shopping him, but were unable to get any suitable offers. If he does not have a good camp, they will probably cut him.
Bryan Scott is a solid and dependable strong safety who is a physical presence. He simply does not make game-changing plays, however. He should at the very least see plenty of time on run downs and match-ups against better-to-elite tight ends.
Jairus Byrd was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft as a corner-back, but with the intention to move him to free safety. He has excellent ball skills, which is why the Bills are so high on him. If he can acclimate to the speed of the NFL, he will see plenty of time on passing downs and should be a full-time starter by the end of the season.
Prediction: Bryan Scott will start the season at strong safety; Jairus Byrd will be starting by the end of the season at free safety, moving Donte Whitner back to strong safety.